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Minimalist modernism

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Clear clutter to make way for interiors that complement architecture and decor details

Modern styling calls for fewer pieces, well-executed and placed, that meld form and function for a sleek, relaxed and pleasing look. The school of contemporary interior design relies on architecture and decor detail to define the aesthetic.

Phenomenal minimal

Minimalism is a key component to achieving a contemporary and particularly modern look says Melissa Machet, design manager, and Roxanne Berti, senior interior designer, at id8 Interior Designs.

“Just by clearing an existing space and grouping furniture correctly, you can change a space completely and make it feel much bigger,” they say.

They believe the modern look doesn’t date and recommend not following trends that can make a home look outdated in years to come.

Fewer items, more perspective

Contemporary design plays up line and space and both can be achieved by organising space with defined silhouettes and more places along which the eye can travel.

Leigh Cattell, owner and designer at Simply Home, advocates a paring back of visual elements which help bring focus to a living space.

“To create a minimal look takes restraint and discipline, but one has to be careful not to be too boring. I suggest starting with seating. Select your main couch and work from there, adding the coffee table and wall art.”

Contemporary design plays up line and space. Picture: ID8

Keep it natural

Julia Day, owner and interior designer at Generation, a Johannesburg-based design company, says most of her interiors lean towards the use of natural products like timber, linens and the cool tones of marble.

“I love an interior that allows the garden to be viewed. I achieve this by keeping most furniture items low and staying away from patterns which clash with the garden.”

Machet says the use of water is in great demand from clients wanting a modern look and many projects incorporate aqua features for a sophisticated, outdoor element.

Personal touch

Machet says clients often want to use existing furniture and this can lead to difficulty blending old and new for a targeted contemporary look.

“We try to bring in the personality of the client and use pieces as a feature on their own.” Day believes each piece in an interior should be something that speaks to the owner. “My preference is carefully curated pieces that are simple but beautiful and have design longevity.”


Colour is a key component in modern minimalism, says Cattell, adding that monotone hues provide the ideal backdrop.

“The minimal look lends itself to neutral tones whether it’s white, off-white or greys. One can then add colour infusions to lift the mood of the space, but in a balanced approach.”

Day says: “Gorgeous charcoals and clotted creams can be accessorised with the palest pink or brightest red.”

Make sure the staircase has ‘wow’ factor. Picture: ID8

Experts’ five ways to get the contemporary look

Colour palette 

“Tone it all down and use a family of similar colours to create a uniform look,” says Berti. Cattell says monotone colours drive a minimal approach. 


Put stuff away and don’t exhibit what is not necessary. “Plan your living area, for example, with the focal furniture in mind and get rid of the rest. It will open up the space.” 

Have two wow factors

“So many people have a brick wall, a painted wall and wallpaper in the same room. Choose two things, like a staircase and the kitchen, that are points of surprise and keep everything else pared back,” says Machet. Cattell suggests selecting feature furniture – “an eye catching couch, coffee table and striking wall art”. 

Be selective with wall art

“One extra-large painting or print is a perfect minimal look, or three or four frames collaged together,” says Cattell. 

Open-plan Machet says the architectural use of glass and areas that naturally flow into each other provide a great backdrop for modern interior decor.

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